Whilst we would liked to have carried on cycling continuously through India, we didn’t have time to cycle from Mumbai to Delhi and take in the wonders of Rajasthan. So we either did a direct route to Delhi from Mumbai by bike, missing out Rajasthan, or would have to miss out a section of cycling by a train journey and then have the time to explore the delights of the desert kingdom of palaces and forts. There are no “rules” for our trip, so we opted for the train and Rajasthan, and so had to brave the Indian Rail system – so today was mostly about trains.
We woke late having got to bed around midnight after the meal with Dan, Tania and his parents. Ambling around, doing last minute things took most of the morning and then, as we attempted to leave, we found Bernie had a puncture. After changing the tyre we went to the petrol station that the family run to say our goodbyes and profound thanks. We feel that we have gained some really good friends and are determined to ensure we stay in touch.
It was only 16km from the gas station to Bandra Terminus, so surely that was not too much of a challenge after the thousands of kilometres we have travelled. However, it was 16km ride through a heavily polluted city with frantic Indian traffic and so counted as “Istanbul II”. Those long standing readers of our blog will recall the descriptions of traffic we endured in Istanbul in 2015. This was just as crazy but with an Indian twist to it.
We tried to stick to the main roads but, however major the road, there were always multiple pedestrians cyclists, motorbikes and tuktuks coming the wrong way down the inside of the road. That meant constant swinging out into the traffic to overtake them, and the oncoming traffic did not appreciate that one little bit – so we often came to a grinding halt. Numerous traffic lights held us up, then diversions caused by the work to create a new metro (which diverted major traffic down a tiny series of side streets). It was slow going, a touch frightening at times and we counted down each kilometre.
Finally we arrived in the vicinity of the station. When I say “in the vicinity”, that suggests we had arrived but it was a case of “not quite”. Our route brought us into the area of the station, but on the wrong side of the tracks. We found what looked to be a route over the railway and found it was just that, a route over the railway. So we ended up pushing our bikes across a major rail line junction, hoping no train came (which it didn’t). There was a sign threatening a 200 rupees fine for anyone who crossed there, but no sign of any enforcement.
That brought us into a wasteland area and we followed the Garmin to reach the back of a vast station. Indian trains are perhaps 2 or 3 times longer than the longest UK train, and so the platforms seem to go on for miles. But at least we had made it.
We arrived about 2pm, about 2 hours before the train was due to leave. That time was needed to get the bikes onto the train as approved luggage. The Parcel Office was, of course, at the far end of a mile long platform, but with lots of help we found it. Then we filled in the forms, provided our passports and gave numerous details. They did not ask for the date and place of birth of our children, but it would not have surprised us if this was needed. A helpful man “sewed up” the bikes by putting packing around the handlebars so notices could be written on, and then we paid our 400 rupees and were told proudly “the bikes are now in our custody”. Slightly dubiously (but without justification) we left the bikes to the parcel office staff, and trawled off carrying our panniers to store on the train.
An hour later we were outside our carriage (having found B1 – which was of course no where near carriage B2) and, once it opened, we got on. We then got a text message to say our bikes were loaded on the train, proving once again that India is a weird mixture of old fashioned bureaucracy with new technology overlaid on top.
The journey was 18 hours (3.50pm to 9am) and passed in a largely uneventful way. We were in AC3 class – which means that the coach was air-conditioned (in fact rather chilly at times) and there were 3 bunks arranged one above the other in each compartment. We were swopped from one to another at various times at the direction of a rather officious guard but it was all fine, and we dropped off to sleep with the sounds of the train chuntering along the 760km journey towards Udaipur.